Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Think for a moment about your women’s networks. I look back over my life and can trace my history by looking at my girlfriends.
There were my neighborhood and school girl friends: Becky and Theresa. 
There were my church friends: Janet and Pam and Liz and Debbie.
Then there were my college friends: five of us - Susan, Brenda, Sandy, Sharon and me.  We sang together throughout college and after.
Then there were my teacher friends: Dee, Sherrie, Phyllis, and Francis
There were my single friends like Paulina.
Now there are my Christ Church friends and girl, do I have friends - a whole sisterhood of friends, women who will pray for me and laugh with me and generally do life with me.
I just can’t imagine life without friends.

In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers asked participants to stand at the base of a steep hill and estimate how tough it would be to climb. Those standing with a friend judged the climb to be less steep compared with those who were alone.

Another study on the importance of showed the survival rate of women with breast cancer. It found that those women who had a strong, supportive circle of friends outlived by many years their counterparts who lived in social isolation.

A study from Harvard Medical School showed that the more friends women have, the less likely they are to develop physical impairments as they age, and the more likely they are to lead a contented life. The study also showed that not having friends is as hurtful to your health as being overweight or smoking cigarettes. The researchers examined how well the women functioned after the death of a spouse and found that even in the face of this major life loss, women with close friends with whom they can share their burdens fare better than women who lack close friendships.

Do you ever get so involved in your busy life that you don’t take time to nurture your friendships? Look at these reasons to do so:
1 1.   Friendships can reduce stress.
A UCLA study suggests that women respond to stress with a flow of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain friendships with other women. The hormone oxytocin is released as part of stress response, and in women, oxytocin triggers an immediate desire to seek and maintain relationships in response to stress. Imagine that! Stress encourages us to bond with other women!
22.   Friendships provide accountability.
Having a community of women that you share your goals and dreams with keeps you accountable to yourself. We all need affirmation to keep us going!  
33.   Friends lengthen your life.
Research supports the finding that having a network of social contacts helps people have longer, healthier, happier lives. When you live your full of a sense of purpose, you wake up every day with something to look forward to.
Friends support your goals.
Good friends encourage you to keep keeping on. They help you meet your goals instead of hindering your efforts.

Having a sisterhood is good for our mind, body, soul, and spirit. So many reality shows are devoted to unhealthy female relationships. They depict women arguing, belittling each other, gossiping, and tearing each other down. A true sisterhood is nothing like this. I encourage you to nurture your friendships, lift up other women, and focus on the good in others.
Let’s hear it for the sisterhood!

Strength in High Places

Monday, December 14, 2015

Image result for deer on high placesThe prophet Habakkuk was troubled and confused about the corruption he saw all around. Habakkuk urgently cried out to God for help.  He asked God why evil people prosper while the righteous suffer. God answers, telling the prophet that although it seems as though the wicked triumph, eventually they will be judged, and righteousness will prevail. God promised Habakkuk that in his time all things would be taken care of.  The prophet moves from doubt to faith as he begins to trust that God works in all things. The book of Habakkuk concludes with a prayer of triumph as Habakkuk has a new understanding of God’s power and love.

Habakkuk declares that although the fig trees may not have blossom, there may be no grapes on the vines, the crop fails, the flocks die, and the cattle barns are empty, he will rejoice in the Lord.

If you are suffering through a difficult time, can you still trust that God is in control and working on your behalf? Habakkuk realized that even though life around him was crumbling, he knew that God would give him strength to persevere. You can know the same truth. When nothing makes sense in your life and troubles seem more than you can bear, God will still give you strength to make in through. Habakkuk likens this kind of strength to a deer treading on the heights.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
    He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    able to tread upon the heights.
Habakkuk 3:19 (NLT)

Let’s look at other versions of this verse:

 The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. (KJV)

The strength God gives is so surefooted it is compared to that found in a deer’s feet. A hind is a doe. A doe is equipped to get up on those high ledges. Habakkuk says God will make my feet like deer’s feet: Habakkuk thought of the deer running about on the high hills, never losing a step and never falling. More than that, the deer dance and leap along the hillside; they are full of life and joy. God provides stamina to endure hardships and energy to walk on high ledges like a deer. God gives His followers surefooted strength through difficult times so that we can come confidently through the most challenging of circumstances.  We like the deer can run across rough and dangerous terrain.

God wants our faith to lift us to new heights with him. God wants to equip us for high places. What are your high places? What are the most difficult circumstances? What areas of life challenge you most? What areas of responsibility are the most daunting to you? Know that God will give you the strength of a surefooted deer and will allow you to walk forward with faith and courage and confidence.

Watchman and Watchtower

Monday, November 23, 2015

Today we are concerned about the horrible acts of violence and murder that are taking place around the world by Islamic extremists. Some wonder how a good God can allow such atrocities to exist. I am reminded that the prophet Habakkuk questioned God about similar atrocities he witnessed from the Babylonians as they attached Judah. Let’s see what we can learn from Habakkuk.

Habakkuk was saddened by the violence and corruption he saw around him and he poured out his heart to God. The book of Habakkuk is the prophet’s dialogue with God. Habakkuk was appalled by Judah's violent acts, evil, misery, destruction. He was also appalled that God tolerated this wrong. Habakkuk saw a dying world, and it broke his heart. He asked questions of God that we often ask:
 If God is good, then why is there evil in the world? And if there has to be evil, then why do the evil prosper? What is God doing in the world?  Why do the wicked seem to be winning? Habakkuk did what often we are afraid to do. He boldly and confidently took his complaints directly to God. Then we see in Habakkuk 2, the prophet waited patiently for God to reply.
I will climb up to my watchtower
    and stand at my guardpost.
There I will wait to see what the Lord says
    and how he will answer my complaint.
Habakkuk 2:1
The watchman and watchtower are often used by the prophets to show an attitude of expectation. They are images of Habakkuk’s attitude of patient waiting and watching for God’s response. Stone watchtowers were built on city walls or ramparts so that watchmen could see enemies and messengers approaching their city while still at a distance. Watchtowers were also erected in vineyards to help guard the ripening grapes. Habakkuk wanted to be in the best position to receive God’s message. What are concerns we have today that we should take to the watchtower – things that we need to wait on an answer?
The NIV says in verse 1, “I will station myself.” Station means stay put. It means, ‘I'm not moving.’ It means, ‘I’m going to be still.’ ‘I’m going to sit here and I am not going to move until I hear from you, God.’
How well do you wait?
David says there are three things to do as you wait –
  • Wait quietly -- “I wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.” (Psalm 62:5 NLT)
  • Wait patiently -- “Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.” (Psalm 37:7 NLT)
  • Wait expectantly -- “I wait expectantly, trusting God to help, for he has promised.” (Psalm 105:5 LB)
Sometimes our best act of faith is not to try to answer life’s hard questions, but to reflect instead on the character of God.
The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. Psalm 145:8
These four attributes are mentioned over and over in scripture.
  • Gracious
  • Compassionate
  • Slow to anger
  • Rich in love

When we begin to wonder about God’s presence in the world during times of crisis, let’s remember that we serve a sovereign God who is ultimately in charge of this world. Let’s say these things out loud when you are having trouble and the world seems against you.
  • God is love.
  • God is good. He’s good all the time.
  • God is just.
  • God is holy. In the Greek, to be holy is to be righteous – or to be right. Wouldn’t our lives be easier if we realized that God is always righteous?

Abba Father, Lord of All, O Lord our God, our Holy One, you who are eternal.  We often struggle with what we see in the world. We’re troubled by wars and rumors of wars. We’re heartbroken by images we see of hurting people throughout the world. We often cry out as Habakkuk did, Must I forever see these evil deeds?  Why must I watch all this misery?”  We want to know where you are. Help us to remember our thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways our ways. We know you are a sovereign God, one in total control of all things past, present, and future. Nothing happens beyond  your knowledge and control. At the same time, you give us free will. Help us Father to choose wisely for we know that decisions we make will affect not only us but many others. We also know you are a God of grace. Your grace extends to those who have not earned it. It is undeserved favor. Help us to be still and know that you are at work that you keep your promises, and that you are good and you are love and just and holy. Amen.

Be Silent Before God

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Being silent before God teaches us to rest in Him and enjoy His presence. It gives us an opportunity to meditate on who he is – to stop focusing on ourselves and our own activities. 
    ...let all the earth be silent before him. Habakkuk 2:20
Occasionally when we sit before God in silence we hear Him speak through thoughts or remembered Bible passages. Solitude is a spiritual discipline.
In her book Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton describes solitude as a place, both a place in time and a physical place. She says, “solitude is a place inside myself where God’s Spirit and my spirit dwell together in union.”
Solitude is the most basic spiritual discipline. Silence and solitude are very connected.
Silence = letting go of our inner distractions.
Solitude = letting go of our outer distractions.
It is often hard for us to totally unplug and listen to God. Our culture discourages solitude. Culture wants us to always be doing. I suffer from “frenetic doing.”  It’s hard to unplug. These are some of my “noisy” distractions:
·         Phones
·         Technology
·         Email
·         Friends
·         Family
·         TV
·         Computer
·         Radio
·         interruptions

Exodus 14: 13-14 tells us The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still. What in this verse comforts you?

Let’s look at how busy Jesus was. He had more to accomplish in 3 years of ministry than any of us will accomplish in a lifetime. He was changing the world. Jesus consistently found time for solitude and encouraged even commanded his disciples to experience solitude. Imagine the daily life of Jesus for the 3 years of his ministry. He taught, healed, preached, traveled, told stories, dealt with demons, dealt with Satan, was surrounded by crowds of people, settled disagreements among his followers. It was often very challenging for him to get away.
  • He spent 40 days in the desert alone before launching his ministry. (Matthew 4:1-11)
  • He spent the night alone in the hills the night before he chose the 12 disciples. (Luke 6:12)
  • When he learned of John the Baptist’s death, he left in a boat to a “lonely place apart.” (Matthew 14;13)
  • After feeding the 5,000 he went into the hills by himself. (Matthew 14:23)
  • After healing many people, he went to an isolated place to pray. (Mark 1:35)
  • When the 12 returned from preaching and healing, Jesus instructed his disciples, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” (Mark 6:31)
What are some steps into solitude?
Be intentional. Set aside a time and place and spend at least 10 minutes in silence and solitude. Assume a comfortable posture. Select a scripture verse to focus your mind. Then choose a simple prayer to express your need for God.
Be aware of your body, mind and soul. Know when you are weary in body, mind, and soul. Recognize your need to rest in God’s presence. Take deep breaths and allow yourself to relax. Ask God to quiet your mind. Confess to God anything that is weighing on your soul.
Resist distractions. Commit your regular time to God.
Listen for God’s voice. The more quiet time you spend with God, the more you’ll learn to recognize his voice. As you spend this time, pay attention to how God speaks to your spirit. The Holy Spirit will give you comfort and direction only as you’re able to hear it.
Bless others. Use the love God shows you in your solitude to be a blessing to others. Speak and act in love as you serve others.

Prayer: Ask God to quiet your mind. Confess to God anything that is weighing on your soul. Spend time in silence and active listening.

To hear my related lesson on Habakkuk, click here.Habakkuk 2

Habakkuk: Relevant Today

Saturday, October 31, 2015

This book of Habakkuk records the prophet’s dialogue with God concerning the things Habakkuk questions. The prophet Habakkuk was saddened by the violence and corruption he saw around him and he poured out his heart to God.   He was able to ask God hard questions—in this case, he essentially asked, “God, how can you punish Judah for its sins by using Babylon, when Babylon’s sins are even worse.  He goes on to describe what the Babylonians did to their enemies? In Habakkuk 1:15 we read, 
 Must we be strung up on their hooks and caught in their nets while they rejoice and celebrate?

Habakkuk fears that the people of Judah will be caught in the nets of the Babylonians and the Babylonians will not be punished. Instead they will rejoice and celebrate. “Nets” for the Babylonians are their gods - gods that give them power, wealth, and control. The Babylonians enjoyed capturing people because the captors helped them live in their pleasures. The more people they conquer, the more powerful and wealthy they become. It’s a game of power. The Babylonians love to gather their prey.

Do we get caught in nets today? Are there things that trap us and control us? Do we get caught up by things that love to make us captive? Are we tempted by nets of fame, fortune, power, greed, beauty, wealth? Are we trapped by what we traditionally call the seven deadly sins -  pridegreedlustenvygluttonywrath and sloth?

It happens too often that I am tempted by the hooks and nets of fashion and beauty. I love beautiful clothes and dressing in the latest colors and fashions. I also know full well that I have a closet and makeup drawer filled with everything I really need, yet I’m often caught by the hook and pulled into the net of fashion and beauty.

It happens too often that I spend too much time trolling social media sights looking at the latest happenings on Facebook and seeing the trends on Pinterest. I know full well that I can easily be caught in the trap of more, more, more by what I see.

It happens to often that I sit in front of the TV watching too much of 24 hour news cycle and other programming that just really doesn’t add to the value of my life.

Let’s pray that when ”hooks and nets” tempt us, we will recognize the temptation, consider what really adds value and meaning to our lives, and then choose wisely.

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT)

Heifer or Lamb?

Monday, October 12, 2015

In Hosea 4 the prophet Hosea tells of the moral and spiritual decay of Israel. He describes the punishment that awaits the people and pleads with them to return to God. Verse 16 says, Israel is stubborn, like a stubborn heifer. In the next chapter Hosea says the leaders of Israel are so stubborn, “Your deeds won’t let you return to your God.” I wander if God looks at us, and thinks, “Yet another generation of stubborn heifers!” Heifers have consequences to their stubbornness. Farmers have to put cumbersome yokes and sometimes painful constraints on stubborn heifers. What are the consequences of stubbornness when it comes to our own moral or spiritual decay? Now look at the contrast to the stubborn heifer in the next part of verse 16 - So should the Lord feed her like a lamb in a lush pasture? Unlike the stubborn heifer, lambs are known for their willingness to follow the shepherd. Are you are heifer or a lamb? What are potential consequences for us as individuals, churches, cities, and a country for our immoral stubbornness? Think about steps you might take to become more like a lamb who is willing to follow the Great Shepherd.

Personal Worship: Read Psalm 23 and meditate on God as a shepherd who will guide, comfort, and love you.

Prone to Wander

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Message version of Isaiah 53:6 says, “We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.” This verse reminds me of the lines in the hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing:” “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it— Prone to leave the God I love.” When we’re prone to wander we have a natural tendency to stray from the path we’re on and go toward another path. Think about times you’re prone to wander. Let’s imagine we are walking down a path in the woods headed toward a beautiful lake. What might make us stray off the path? We want to find a shortcut. We get distracted. We lose our way. Someone entices us to go another way. We get frustrated and discouraged because the path seems to get hard. We find a seemingly easier path. Another path looks better than the one we are on. How does this relate to our faith wanderings? How do people wander from their faith? What times in life are you most likely to wander? The hymn continues with words of restoration, words of returning to the faith. “Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.” Isaiah tells us Christ came to restore us and make us righteous. When we wander, let us be mindful to our way back on the path and then to go his way.

Take a few minutes to worship by listening to "Come Thou

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